Bringing Animal Calls into your Family Culture

by Kristin Van Der Kar

At Wilderness Youth Project each of our groups has a language that we all use in common. A language of animal calls – each one having an important meaning. We use them to keep our group in unity, to keep each other safe, to connect with the creatures and expand our awareness of language to non-human sounds, and for fun! 

This language also uses the power of the feelings that are elicited from each sound and can be much more productive than using words, especially for the young child. Try making a coyote call sound – what images and feelings come into your body? For many of us we then get an image of a pack of coyotes coming together and we may feel some urgency. Notice the feelings that each sound creates and how they relate to the meaning of the call. 

Animal calls can also be an extremely helpful tool to avoid having to repeat your child’s name over and over. Our brains are more easily able to process a sound rather than words so instead of Lucy, Lucy, Lucy try: ‘Listen up for the coyote call, it is almost time for dinner’ and then ‘Owoo – owoo – owoo’. 

Kelly wrote about using song to help with transitions, these animal calls pair nicely with the use of song and can create much smoother transitions, so try them together.

Many of you may witness this language used by your children and maybe already use it at home. Here we will share the language and ways to use it with your family.

I invite you to ask your child to teach you about this language.  If they do not remember that is fine,  but giving your children the opportunity to be the teacher is a beautiful thing! 

Also, expand upon this; create your own calls that are particular to your family and have fun with it!


The Calls: 

Coyote Call: Come Back         Owoooo – owooo – owooo

When we hear the Coyote Call we come together as a group around whoever made the call. At WYP it often means it is circle time, snack time, time to hear about the next activity, or we just found a really cool scat that we want everyone to see!

How can you use it in your home? Does it mean it is time to come together for a meal? Does it mean someone is getting a bit too far from the rest of the family on an adventure and it is time to come back?


Crow Call: Freeze               Cawww – caww – caww 

When a well practiced group hears the crow call it is an amazing thing – everyone freezes right exactly where they are! This call is very important because it may mean the group is about to get into poison oak, or someone in the back of the group tripped and needs a moment and the front of the group needs to wait, or it may mean there is a snake on the trail and we need to ID it before going closer! 

How can you use it in your home? Will you use the crow call to have someone freeze because they are in a position that will make everyone laugh if they freeze? Will you use it to play a type of red light green light game? Will you use it right as your child is about to whack on their sibling?


Rooster Call: Go           Cock – a – doodle – doo

After using the crow call we need to signify that we can continue on and don’t have to be frozen forever. Here is when we use the rooster call. It means go ahead, you can run down the path, you can keep playing… How will you use this call in your home? Will you have a dance party and every time you use the crow call everyone freezes in a silly position and then when you rooster call the dancing begins again?


Owl Hoot: Hoot back    Hooo – hooo – hooo – hoo – hoo

When we use the owl hoot it signifies a call and response. We hoot and the others hoot back. This call is used if we are getting a head count of everyone in the group and one child just went behind a tree – it auditorily lets us know they are behind the tree but they can keep playing. Birds do this a lot, where are you, are you ok? The response shares where the bird is and that they are ok. 

How can you use this one at home? Have you ever thought your child had disappeared only to realize they were sitting right behind the couch out of sight? This would be a great time to use the owl hoot. It also can be a sweet way to signify that you are thinking of the other person even though you are in another room working on something. Can you try to change the tone of the owl hoot for different occasions? 

Can you hear any owls around your home? If so, listen to the way they call back and forth to each other. What other birds are calling back and forth to each other?


Red-Shouldered Hawk: Dance Party Keer – keer – keer – keer

This call was recently created by our Carpinteria Bluffs Chickadee group.  It is very important because it means stop whatever you are doing and have a dance party! Sometimes we need to stop what we are doing and move our bodies to get the energy flowing again. Children are remarkable at remembering to move their bodies but at some point some of us may have forgotten how important that is. Maybe this one is more for you- maybe you pause computer work or whatever it is and shake it out! If you have older children at home doing online learning this could also be a great way to break things up. 


Animal Call Game

Alright let’s put them all together and play! Find a spot that you and your family have some room to move and choose one person to be the Animal Caller. 

  • Cock – a – doodle – doo: GO – the game has begun, run, skip walk forward
  • Crow Call: Caw – caw -caw -caw: FREEZE
  • Rooster Call: Cock – a – doodle – doo: GO
  • Owl Hoot: Hoo – hoo – hoo – hoo: HOOT BACK, you can even keep moving as you do this
  • Red – Shouldered Hawk Call: Keer – keer -keer: DANCE PARTY
  • Crow Call: Caw – caw -caw – caw: FREEZE
  • Rooster Call: Cock – a – doodle – doo: GO
  • Coyote Call: Owoo – owoo -owoo: Return to the caller

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